Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 1: The Desk

“…now I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job….It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” — Stephen King, On Writing

(I realize that Neil Gaiman technically won the poll for ‘Most Wanted Mentor’…but since I voted for King, we’re gonna use him first.)

In one of those serendipitous moments of life, right after I decided to take writing seriously, I found Stephen King’s book On Writing. Read it cover to cover. He said exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it, in a way that I could hear it. And one of those passages that spoke to me was the above quote.

Two things came to me from that:
1. I needed a desk.
2. I needed to find a place to put it.

I needed a desk so that I knew I took my writing seriously. There needed to be a space that was inherently mine, and it was inherently for writing–my place to keep the ‘door shut’. But I had nothing. Most of the time I was working on my short stories out of 10 cent notebooks on my lap. I was in my early twenties, still living with my mom, trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life…and the argument “I wanna write” sounded more like whining than an actual argument (especially since to all outward appearances, I was making no progress in that regard).

I reviewed my meager finances and decided that I would buy a desk. The first piece of furniture I ever picked out, bought, and used by myself. It couldn’t be large, because I was basically living in a seven-year-old’s bedroom. It couldn’t be expensive. It couldn’t be used (like sharing a bathroom–who wants in on private moments like that?).

Turns out, I found the perfect desk. A roll top, half the size of a normal roll top. It has slots and files and places to organize stuff. There’s no room for a computer, but I was doing all my writing by hand at that time because I didn’t really have a computer…my brother and I were splitting computer usage until he left for the Marine Corps. It cost me $200. I still have it.

As far as placing it goes: I knew what King said was correct. Writing is a humble job. You don’t get to look glamorous like a movie star. You don’t get to ‘write’ in public. You put your ideas down on a silent, no-talk-back piece of paper and wonder what the hell you’re doing. Are you doing it right? Will people like it? Is that what you’re doing it for in any case? So the desk does not go in the middle of the room like a shrine.

Turns out, I could never figure out where my desk should go. It has been in the corner of at least two bedrooms, the corner of a living room, the basement, and now it’s against the wall in the kitchen. I’m always interrupted (but the door somehow remains closed) and I can tell everything that’s going on in the house. My son’s kindergarten papers are mixed with drafts and critiques and jump drives. I’ve also expanded the desk. Now it’s a desk + table. The table keeps all the tech stuff (computer, printer, etc.) and the desk is the creative mess it should be. Not nearly as organized I’d like but it has all the chaos of a great working space.

It’s my little corner of the world.

How about you? Do you have a space that’s just yours, even if it’s in the middle of kids, pets, neighbors, fast food workers, etc? Where’s your writing hidey-hole?

I highly recommend finding your space. But don’t let it block you from the world you want to connect to.

Mentors Stephen King

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Mentor of the month, eh? Sounds nifty. As far as writing space goes, it’s more a bubble in my mind. If I’ve got my notebook open I’ve got an insulating bubble around me. I tune out the background noise (though, it helps me to have background noise to tune out, quiet is distracting somehow). A lot of that I credit to the fact that I used to do most of my writing in school during class, so I had to be able to tune out.As far as having a desk goes, I love mine. I got it when I was in Arkansas, and it was aroudn $60 because it was the beat up floor model and no one knew how to take it apart. It made the trip back to Colorado with me and has been taken apart many times as I’ve moved. It’s also my beading desk, my letters to Camii desk, my homework desk, my bill-paying desk, my storage desk, and a few other things.

  2. I have a drawing desk that is my creative space. The only problem is that sometimes it becomes the storage desk to the point that it’s useless as anything else.

  3. Funny, I found my favorite book about writing just as I decided to take it seriously, too. My desk isn’t a desk. I sit on the daybed in my ‘writing room’ with my laptop. I used to have a desk, but it reminded me too much of work. The downside of having a desk job. Although I can write at my desk at work. Weird.

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